STAFF REVIEW of Guardians of Middle-earth (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012.
by Brent Roberts

Guardians of Middle-earth Box art Darkness stirs in the East. An evil beyond any could comprehend is poised to rise up from the shadows and blanket Middle Earth in despair. The time of peace is coming to an end, and in its stead we find the prelude to a war that will forever shape the outcome of all those who dwell in Middle Earth. It is up to you to answer the call of the hero, take arms against your adversaries, and drive the foul beasts back into their abyss! The moment of truth is upon us and only through your actions can victory be obtained and the evil vanquished from the lands. Victory in this war cannot be won alone, therefore an alliance of heroes will be formed and through your brotherhood will the darkness finally be vanquished. Hear the horn blowing. Answer its call.

Very few tales have been told that impact humanity on such a scale as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. To grasp how much influence these two tales hold, you need to start thinking on biblical levels. Over the past half century, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have captivated millions of people through text, and when adaptations of these books cross into other forms of media, there is almost a collective holding of breath in hopes that the representations at least match the expectations we already hold in our minds. There are some works that do justice to the source material, however there are some that make us hang our head in shame. Now upon us is the Xbox Live Arcade game Guardians of Middle Earth. It should be noted that starting out, things look promising. Guardians of Middle Earth is published by Warner Brothers and developed by Monolith, and when you add support from New Line Cinema, Wingnut Films, and Middle-Earth, you start to get a sense of a true interactive masterpiece that will keep you locked in constant amazement.

As you set forth on your grand adventure, you will notice the sheer depth of the game before you. This depth is what will provide you with countless hours of enjoyment. For starters, there are multiple loadouts that provide different opportunities to base your character stats around your gameplay. There are multiple classes that feature a total of over 20 different Guardians and each offers their own individual abilities that can turn the tide of war in an instant. Your character will have access to relics that are based off of multiple support characteristics. It's in these relics where your gems will go that will offer additional stat or character bonuses. All of these make up what is known as your hero's "belt" which provide your character numerous bonuses and enhancements that can not only benefit your character, but your entire army as well. On top of this customization you will also have the ability to customize what types of "commands" you want to have at your disposal in the middle of battle. Various commands will grant your Guardian a quick boost of power that will decimate foes in front of you, or provide your troops healing powers to help keep them alive longer, and more. When you combine all of these elements with hotkey potion management, then you have the ingredients to make not just a fantastic MOBA game, but a fantastic game period.

Guardians of Middle Earth does do some justice to Tolkien's masterpieces, however, before you start getting too excited there are a couple of drawbacks. Now when we had the chance to review Guardians of Middle Earth, there were very few other reviewers online and nowhere near enough gamers to make a full room. This situation allowed those who were online and loving this game to charge head first into a really big issue with the load times. Since open slots in matchmaking will be filled with AI controlled characters, Guardians of Middle Earth takes two minutes to find a game. While two minutes may not seem like a long time, while you are waiting, it seems almost long enough to read The Hobbit itself. On a plus side though, once the game releases and many more gamers jump online, this issue with the two minuet wait time should be erased, hopefully.

Another issue that I have with Guardians of Middle Earth deals with the voice acting. While some of it seems to come directly from the audio from the movies, there are some voices that do not fit the feel of the characters. Take The Witch King for example, instead of having a sinister shrieking voice it sounds like his name is Phil from accounting. Thankfully only some of the voices are like this, but all of this combat brings forth another issue and that involves the levels you get to play on. You don't get three maps, or even five, instead you get one, and only one. Like the phrase says, one ring to rule them all and now you have only one map to rule them all. Given the iconic scenery throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, one thing Tolkien has always given his readers are dynamic settings from which all these events are staged. Unfortunately with only one map that never changes, the combat does get stale after a while.

"Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil." This quote sums up Guardians of Middle Earth perfectly. As an avid fan of Tolkien's works, great care must be taken to make sure that the quality of work presented does justice to the source material, and sadly that is not the case here. With a price tag of a hefty 1200 MS points, Guardians of Middle Earth tries very hard to justify a purchase, however the faults are unfortunately crippling. If more content as far as maps and arenas were initially provided for free, then it would be well worth the purchase, but for now unfortunately, wait till it goes on sale.

Please make sure that there is more than one map available for gamers. If at launch there is only one map, please make sure that you release multiple maps in the form of DLC where the first map pack (of lets say 3 levels) is for free. 1200 MS points is a lot to spend on a game where you play only 1 map and it would go a long way in showing gamers you want to provide content equal to the quality of work of the Guardians themselves.

Overall: 7.9 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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